From welfare to work? Exploring the impacts and effectiveness of welfare conditionality

University of Birmingham
Wednesday 20 March 2019 (16:00-17:30)

Davina Weston


This event is part of the SPSC Lecture Series
Speaker: Professor Peter Dwyer, University of York

The application of a principle of welfare conditionality links eligibility to continued receipt of unemployment related social security benefits to claimants’ engagement with mandatory job search requirements, training and support schemes and/or work focused interviews. Failure to undertake such specified activities routinely leads to benefit sanctions. Within the UK’s ‘work first’, welfare state conditionally has been systematically extended and intensified to embrace the majority of working aged claimants of social security benefits, including many disabled people and lone parents and, latterly under Universal Credit, also low paid workers.

Advocates of welfare conditionality argue that policies which seek to promote unconditional entitlement to social security benefits are likely to promote idleness and unemployment. Additionally, they believe welfare conditionality can be instrumentally used to tackle entrenched welfare dependency among a section of the wider population who choose to rely on welfare rather than work for a living. Conversely, critics state that welfare conditionality blames poorer citizens for their inactivity in relation to paid work and leads to the emergence of a punitive welfare state that fails to adequately acknowledge the wider structural causes of unemployment (e.g. a lack of available work and also individuals’ varied capacity to undertake such work).

Against this backdrop this paper explores the effectiveness of welfare conditionality and, in particular, its key component elements of sanction and mandatory support, in enabling people to enter, sustain and advance within the paid labour market. Utilising analysis from three waves of interviews undertaken in a large (n. 480 at wave a) repeat qualitative longitudinal panel study in England and Scotland the paper highlights the varied impacts of welfare conditionality on the work and welfare trajectories of a diversity of benefit recipients.

This work is as part of the ESRC funded ‘Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change’ project under grant number ES/K002163/2.

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